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Happiness Grows on Trees

When our summer plans went awry, my first thought was, “What on earth am I going to do with my kids?”

All year long, we had planned to spend the summer months at my parents’ bungalow colony in the Catskills. My kids were enrolled in day camp up there, and I was looking forward to morning walks and leisurely afternoons at the pool. During the winter, I would dream about sipping iced coffee on my parents’ porch swing, inhaling the breeze.

But one week into July, the colony was closed due to problems with the septic tank. When my kids heard the news, they looked at me with wide-eyed panic: “What are we going to doooooo?”

I quickly dialed my husband’s phone number and wailed, “What are we going to doooooo?”

Way back in November, all of my neighborhoods were thinking about day camp. They were kind enough to inform me – the Monsey newbie – that I had to decide quickly where I planned to register my children.

Clearly, my friends knew what they were doing. I discovered this when the administrators I spoke to told me that their camps were full, and if I wanted to be so lucky as to enroll my children with them, I’d better be prepared to pay the procrastinator’s special: a hefty chunk of change.

For about five minutes, I thought about keeping my children home with me and playing “Camp Mommy.” I’d take some of the money I would have been spending on day camp and use it for fun outings my kids would remember for years.

Then, my kids got out of bed for the day.

Within 45 seconds, they were bickering about who got to finish off the corn flakes and who got to brush their teeth first.

All righty then. I was now prepared to spend up to half of my kingdom to get my children out of each other’s hair (at least from 9:30 to 3:30).

Tzvi only wanted to go to the camp where two of our neighbors were going, the camp for which I would need a second mortgage for Tzvi to attend. Tehilla only wanted to go to the camp whose itinerary had once been placed in our mailbox – the type of camp with daily trips and sushi lunches.

I did the calculations and my stomach dropped – the cost of camp was astronomical, more than twice what I had expected to pay in the Catskills.

I hemmed and hawed.

My kids deserved a good summer after our plans had fallen through – didn’t they?

As I struggled to make a decision, my husband took off his glasses and rubbed his temples with exhaustion. When I walked past the nightstand, those glasses caught my attention. I picked them up and tried to look through them. I felt like I was peering through glass that had been hacked with a pickaxe. Parts of the lens were scratched, and other parts had simply eroded.

I looked at my husband in horror. “Yossi, there is no way you can see out of these things!”

He shrugged, grateful that I was no longer harping about day camp. “Yeah, they’ve been like that for a while.”

“So why didn’t you say something? Let me order you another pair!”

He shrugged again. “Nah, it’s fine. I don’t feel like spending the money. I got used to the scratches – it’s not a big deal.”

The absurdity hit me like a slap across the face.

I was considering shelling out half of my bank account to give my kids a premium summer, while their father – the guy who actually gets up at 5AM to go to work and make money – didn’t think it was necessary to spend a few dollars so that he could actually see.

I ditched the numbers for the mega-camps, and instead called some backyard camps that had been highly recommended. A few still had spots and offered affordable rates. They were understanding when I explained that our plans had fallen through, and they welcomed my kids with open arms.

Ready for the irony? My children looooooved every second of camp.

There were no grand trips or sushi lunches, but there were water fights and scavenger hunts. There were no state-of-the-art baseball fields or ceramics workshops, but there were late night campfires and homemade scrapbooks that – in the expert opinion of my children – were absolutely awesome.

Sometimes, I delude myself into thinking that if I throw money at a problem, the problem will disappear.

But while money doesn’t grow on trees, happiness can sprout in the least expected places. Our summer plans fell through, but my kids found joy in a circle of new friends while playing duck-duck-goose. They didn’t get to go banana boating, but they laughed for hours after a competitive balloon dance.

My kids will do far better in life if they learn that good times do not need to cost an arm and a leg, that happiness is theirs for the making and not for the purchasing.

I am grateful to my husband and his scratched lenses for giving me and my kids some much-needed perspective.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go buy the poor guy a new pair of glasses.

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